Vicki Helyar-Cardwell, (@vickihcardwell) Director of Research and Development at Revolving Doors Agency is the latest contributor to the current guest blog series setting out the top three priorities for the new Justice Secretary.
Embrace, don’t hate the Treasury
I realise this contradicts what many of my colleagues blogging for this series have outlined, but if I were Justice Secretary I would – perhaps controversially – embrace rather than tolerate the Treasury.
What do I mean by that? Firstly I don’t mean cutting ever more from prisons and probation budgets and asking these important public services just to do more with less. We have seen from recent inspection reports that cuts to prisons are seriously damaging rehabilitation, while the cross-party Justice Select Committee partly attributed the terrible rise in suicides and violence to staff reductions.
No, we need something much more meaningful and radical than just cutting siloed budgets. By embracing the Treasury, I mean in its function of ensuring value for money in achieving the government’s goals. I am happy to take the Justice Secretary’s own stated goals as the starting point:
“We work to protect the public and reduce reoffending, and to provide a more effective, transparent and responsive criminal justice system for victims and the public”
Although I might reshape these aims to include reducing harm and helping people to be and feel safe, this is not a bad start. The next logical step then is to decide which policies are most effective in achieving these aims, given that every pound spent must count.
Tackling complex problems
As Revolving Doors manifesto for the next government makes clear, this means tackling some of the complex problems that drive demand on the criminal justice system in the first place. People facing multiple and complex needs are over-represented on short prison sentences, often repeatedly arrested, using emergency services and experiencing entrenched poverty and deprivation. As I’ve written previously, when people are failed by social policy, it is the justice system that pick up the responsibility.
Which department recently grasped the nettle and outlined a commitment to integrate services for people with complex needs? Not the thinkers at number 10, but the number crunchers at number 11.
It was also the Treasury that put in ink to paper outlining an approach that diverts women convicted of petty non-violent crimes into community based support such as mental health treatment, drug and alcohol services and women’s centres that can reduce reoffending, and could reduce an over-reliance on costly and ineffective short prison sentences. There is, in fact, cross-party recognition that this group needs better preventative and co-ordinated support before problems escalate. However, this needs proper investment, and to date the case for diversion is being made by those holding the purse strings.
It is this relentless focus on ensuring that everything we do actually achieves our aims that is desperately needed in crime and justice policy. To do something radical such as cutting prison numbers, a new Justice Secretary will need allies and I think the best bet is the Treasury.
The purpose of this blog series is to stimulate a debate about where our criminal justice system should be heading.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the justice priorities should be.